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Interesting Dr Smithwick fact: he’s American!

Despite speaking the Queen’s English with no trace of an accent, he was born in Georgia, USA to an English mother and an American father in the Air Force. He spent his childhood years following his parents between their frequently changing homes in Europe and the US, but most of his schooling took place in the UK in the Cotswolds.

fixed centreline bowsprit and asymmetric spinnakers. Already the Rating Office is in discussion with the HP30 Class to offer it any technical support it might need.

Jason would also like to see buy-in from the industry: “Our aim is also to get engagement from international sailors, designers, manufacturers and sailmakers, to get them involved in the Rule and giving us their feedback from all over the world, so that they can all be invested and represented in IRC.”

The unique selling point of IRC is its simplicity and, given how little time people have these days, Jason would like to see how it can be streamlined further. Steps need to be taken across the board, he believes. It might be something as straightforward as making it easier for people to get their boats measured at weekends, or expanding the UK’s online application, MyIRC (, overseas.

One of Jason’s principal winter projects will be to flex his programming muscles so that MyIRC will be able to produce certain certificates in real time automatically (for a fee) and store all certificates in the owner’s MyIRC account. Obviously, limitations will remain in place to prevent a deluge of changes from yacht designers and other interested parties attempting to reverse- engineer IRC’s code.

Keeping Abreast of Technology

Meanwhile, technical development of IRC continues apace. Given how ancient a sport sailing is, it might be fair to assume that technical innovation might be slowing down. In reality, the opposite is true, with sailing on the cusp of its biggest ever performance revolution: the advent of foiling or foil-assisted sailing. Although IRC is keen to cater for the latest technology, it is important that due diligence is done.

To this end, at any one time a substantial amount of research work is carried out behind the scenes by the Rating Offices in the UK and France to establish how IRC should reflect the latest technology. Within the first month at his new post, Jason had already received around 250 pages of technical research data from his technical staff on both sides of the Channel.

“If people do things to make their boats go faster, we should be attentive to it. There is a long research agenda and foils are certainly on it this year,” he explains. “Again the whole

Photos: James Boyd

philosophy has to be ‘without complicating the process for the owner’. Foils are not currently on the certificate, for example.”

Here again is where the Rating Office has a responsibility to guide the sport while protecting the majority of the fleet. In the case of foils, there is no desire to quash development of a groundbreaking technology, but at the same time it cannot be so attractive as to provoke an arms race, becoming a ‘must-fit to win’ item.

As Jason observes: “If IRC forces boat design into an undesirable corner because something isn’t rated correctly, then you have to react to that. What is undesirable? It could be something that is expensive or unsafe or inaccessible for the majority of the fleet. Or something that only works for one style of racing. Take leeward whisker poles – they are great for offshore races, but you don’t want to start using them inshore. So we have to guide the fleet away from the undesirable.”

Notwithstanding all this, Jason is forever fighting to keep IRC simple, whereas there is constant pressure to make it more complex. There is currently a strong push from some quarters, for example, to see waterline beam rated. “The problem with that is you end up looking at righting moment and the last thing we want to do is inclining measurement,” he declares. Apart from creating yet another step in the measurement process, a major drawback of inclining is that results are hard to repeat if taken in more than around eight knots of wind.

Making IRC Fair

There is much else undergoing scrutiny at present. One is autopilots. “Someone will say ‘the short-handed guys are going faster to windward than we can steer, because they’re sticking their autopilot on’. Then somebody else will say ‘my autopilot just about holds the tiller’. So how should we rate autopilots?” Additional points on the technical agenda are code zero sails, the effects of windage and ergonomics, tightening the rules on crew numbers and many others. Jason says he would also like to tweak the maths so that length is rated in a smoother, more linear way across the size range.

While the aim of any rating system is effectively to make the boat ‘transparent’ and reward the efforts of the crew on the race course, there is obviously great variation in how crews approach their racing. There are those wanting to compete in one race each year with the minimum of fuss, yet at the other end of the spectrum there are highly resourced grand-prix teams looking to squeeze every drop of performance out of their boat and their rating.

“They might have a well-prepared, well set-up boat, not just optimised for IRC but optimised generally with good sailors,” explains Jason. “In that case the best thing clubs can do is to be really careful with fleet splits. That way IRC can still work for both cruiser/racers and grand-prix boats.” Advice for Race Organisers is on page 58 of this Yearbook and also on www.ircrating. org, offering information on this and other aspects of running IRC events.

In Jason Smithwick, we have someone who from the outset has a clear understanding of all aspects of IRC, both technical and

political. IRC has a safe pair of hands on the helm. He concludes: “Right now, I have a Utopian view that everything seems possible. I have got good people in the office to keep my feet on the ground. Ultimately we just want to get people racing and make people feel that racing under IRC is fair.”

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